“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
The Lord Jesus offers us this challenging teaching in John’s Gospel that calls us to many qualities that we seek as people of faith: self-sacrifice, loyalty, fidelity… and I would add, unity.
It may seem, when you look at the events of the world, the country and even in some of our communities, that unity is becoming more elusive. We see more conflict, more division in society. Differences in race, gender, religious faith, politics and other distinctions become barriers to unity. All of these are playing out in the campaign to elect our next president which, while only in the primary season, has already reached an unprecedented level of incivility and hostility.
As people of faith, what are we to do?
In our own prejudices and fears we may be tempted to “pick a side.” But later in the same chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus is simple and clear in his prescription; “Love one another.” And he doesn’t mean only those who share your skin color, native language or political party affiliation. Jesus prayed that we be one (as He and the Father are one). He prayed for our unity, not uniformity. He did not pray that we be all alike but that we care for one another; forgive one another; respect one another; love one another.
Earlier in the Gospel of John, the Lord approaches the Samaritan woman at the well. Did He ever get the drink of water that He sought? We don’t know, but in extending God’s mercy to her, He shows us how to break down barriers of gender, class and religious denomination.
At the end of February I had the great pleasure of attending the annual Religious Education Congress In Anaheim where I encountered so many who are alive in their faith and were relishing the opportunity to learn and grow in their relationship with God.
I felt a strong sense of unity there. The question is how, in this Year of Mercy that we are living, do we bring that spirit to our workplace, our classroom, our parish community, our family home? What happens when we encounter someone on the other side of that barrier – who doesn’t look like us, or worship like us, or agree with us on a particular issue? We can talk to each other in a way that first recognizes that each of us is created and loved by God. Then we are able to have a respectful dialogue and if we do not happen to agree on a particular issue, there is no harm done. A debate grounded in civility and respect is healthy.
We are now in the season of Easter, a time for us to feel the joy of the Lord’s Resurrection and to share that joy with others. Let us carry that Easter shine with us as we break down the barriers that keep us from being brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
May God bless you and your families.